Secret Menu Items

Have you received the Sacrament of Confirmation? Did you know that the Catholic Church teaches that when we are confirmed we are receiving the same grace and outpouring of the Holy Spirit that the disciples received on the first Pentecost? In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that Confirmation “perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.” (CCC 1288, 1302) The Catechism also uses that terminology to describe how the Mass perpetuates Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. (CCC 611, 1323) That’s powerful when you stop and think about it. Many of us are familiar with the idea that the sacrifice of the Mass, through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, is representing Jesus’ work on the cross; that is, at every Mass we are being reconnected to the one event of Calvary.

It is significant that the Church uses the same verb, perpetuate, when describing what happens in the Sacrament of Confirmation. We receive the same Spirit, the same outpouring, the same grace, as the first disciples of Jesus in the Upper Room. So, when we were confirmed, the same Spirit that came in a rushing wind with tongues of fire and filled the disciples with boldness to proclaim Jesus with signs and wonders came upon us. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember any rushing winds when I was confirmed. I remember getting dressed up for the bishop and having a party and getting gifts, not necessarily spiritual gifts.

So why is our experience so different? St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the graces we receive in the sacraments can be bound in us for a variety of reasons: lack of faith, improper catechesis, sin, etc. When this happens it’s like receiving a gift from someone but not opening it. We must engage the grace God gives us by faith to see its effects in out lives. Part of that is knowing what to expect, or at least to have an idea of what is possible. Many of us may recall being taught about the Seven Gifts of the Spirt found in Isaiah 11: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are given to make us holy, to make us more like Jesus. But there are other gifts that the Spirit gives that are given to build up the Church and help us share the gospel with others.

There’s a secret menu item hidden in the second reading at Mass for Pentecost Sunday from 1 Corinthians 12. Often the lectionary will omit verses to keep the readings short while keeping the general meaning. In today’s reading we hear 1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13. Notice verses 8-11 are skipped over. In these verses, Paul lists several gifts of the Spirit that are given to believers to strengthen the Church and help us fulfill our mission to make disciples. These gifts are often called the charismatic gifts, taken from the Greek word for gift, charisma. Paul tells us the Spirit gives these gifts to us “as he wills” so we cannot earn them, nor are they signs of our holiness because they are not for our benefit but for others.  

Just before Pentecost, Jesus promised his disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit and the power (in Greek dunamis, from which we get dynamite) to continue his mission. That’s what happened to them at Pentecost and the rest of the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the disciples spreading the Good News with signs and wonders just like Jesus did. In fact, it’s a fulfilment of the promise Jesus made at the Last Supper that “anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (John 14:12) In the Sacrament of Confirmation we receive the same power and the same gifts that the first disciples did. We need to turn to the Lord in faith and ask him to release in us the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to awaken in us the grace that we received but have not experienced.

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